Monthly Archives: September 2011

Swimming in the tides of war

My recent Beyond Boundaries column for The Psychologist explores how the micro-culture of Colombian paramilitary organisations may have shaped the expression of post-traumatic stress disorder in demobilised fighters. Dr Ricardo de la Espriella’s office is surprisingly quiet. Buried deep within San Ignacio University Hospital, the growl of the chaotic Bogotá traffic is perceptibly absent. Despite […]

The chaos behind a legendary portrait

I just found this fascinating account of how Vincent Van Gogh cut off his own ear while seemingly severely mentally ill, the event that led him to paint one of his most famous pictures. The account is apparently reconstructed from known events at the time but also has van Gogh’s own description of the event, […]

Book review: Willpower by Baumeister & Tierney

“Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength”, Roy Baumeister & John Tierney, 2011 I’ve just finished this book, and yet I still couldn’t tell you what it was trying to claim. It’s a grab-bag of research on willpower, nearly all of it done by social psychologist Baumeister and colleagues, and including his celebrated experiments on ego-depletion. […]

Game not over

The Guardian covers a new study on how video games can persist in our perception as fleeting hallucinations in an effect labelled ‘game transfer phenomena’. Unfortunately, the study has been published in an obscure journal which means I’ve not been able to read it in full, although the write-up quotes the lead researcher, Mark Griffiths: […]

The birth of ‘synthetic marijuana’

Addiction Inbox has an interview with pharmacologist David Kroll where he discusses the origin of the countless synthetic cannabinoids that have recently flooded the market as ‘legal highs’ and ‘incense’. You may know Kroll better as the author of the long-running top-notch pharmacology blog Terra Sigillata where he has been tracking the ‘synthetic marijuana’ story […]

Twelfth century orgasmic brain heat

Hildegard of Bingen was a twelfth century nun, possibly with repressed lesbian desires, who had visions, was a proto-scientist, advised the Pope, composed music, and, er, wrote about the role of the brain in the female orgasm. BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives just had a fantastic programme about her where they read out her description […]

Teenage kicks

National Geographic has an excellent article on teenage risk-taking and adolescent brain development. It goes some way to explaining both the dangerous mistakes that typically peak in the late teens and, I like to think, the bad fashion sense which seems to follow a similar pattern. Importantly, the piece goes beyond the usually ‘well the […]

The football cure / addiction

A psychologist from the University of Alabama says American football can absolutely heal the trauma that the deadly April tornados left behind but be careful because there is a risk you could suffer from football addiction. Clearly true because he says so in a priceless TV interview and the university backed it up in a […]

Outside the criminal mind

ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind recently had a fascinating programme on the science behind offender profiling and whether it lives up to its ‘inside the criminal mind’ image. If you’re not familiar with the debates about criminal profiling you may be surprised to hear that a fair few forensic psychologists think it’s a […]

Shifting between the worlds of Carl Jung

The New Atlantis has a wonderful article giving an in-depth biography of Carl Jung, perhaps one of the most interesting, infuriating and brilliant thinkers in the history of psychology. Variously a pioneering experimental psychologist, a depth-analyst, an asylum psychiatrist and a man submerged in his own psychosis, he had a massive influence on both our […]

Masters on the mind

Edge has just kicked off their 2011 Master Class with a fantastic course on ‘The Science of Human Nature’ delivered by an impressive line-up of leading cognitive scientists. Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman on the marvels and the flaws of intuitive thinking; Harvard mathematical biologist Martin Nowak on the evolution of cooperation; UC-Santa Barbara evolutionary psychologist […]

A whiff of madness

For a short time, the scientific community was excited about the smell of schizophrenia. In 1960, a curious article appeared in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggesting not only that people with schizophrenia had a distinctive smell, but that the odour could be experimentally verified. The paper by psychiatrists Kathleen Smith and Jacob Sines noted […]

Escaping from the past of disaster psychology

Scientific American has a useful piece on how the immediate treatment of psychological trauma has changed since 9/11. The issue is interesting because recent progress has turned lots of psychological concepts on their head to the point where many still can’t grasp the concepts. The article notes that at the time of the Twin Towers […]

The spark of the cognitive revolution

Monitor on Psychology has a fascinating article on Otto Selz, a little known pioneer of the cognitive revolution who was decades ahead of the rest of psychology, before being captured and killed by the Nazis. He was so little known, in fact, that the majority of people have never heard of him. In fact, this […]

Minding your own business

I’m just reading a review copy of Steven Pinker’s (excellent) new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. This section, on how moral motivation is over-rated as a control on violence, just made me laugh out loud. The human moral sense can excuse any atrocity in the minds of those who […]

God, death, cannabis

An amazing picture that takes pride of place on the cover of this month’s British Journal of Psychiatry by artist George Harding. The piece has the wonderful name of Everything is Real Except God and Death. From the description in the BJP: The artist writes: `I used to get art lessons when I was a […]


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